I’m trying to spell out the sound I made, several times, during Michelle Williams’s acceptance speech last night at the Emmys for her performance in Fosse/Verdon. Like… “ooooffff”. Like someone’s hit you in the stomach. Like you’re exhaling while doubling over. Not that she meant to, in any way, deliver pain. But she was speaking from a place of pain that probably many women can relate to from their experiences in the workplace, across industries. On several fronts.
But first, it’s worth another watch, if you haven’t already, and also a read, because Michelle’s words were deliberately chosen to weave together two fundamentals that should be inextricable in the workplace and it took less than two minutes:
"My bosses never presumed to know better than I did about what I needed in order to do my job and honor Gwen Verdon." #FosseVerdonFX star Michelle Williams thanks her studios during her acceptance speech for lead actress in a limited series https://t.co/WmT1Fmyol4 #Emmys pic.twitter.com/DDF1ONJV7Z— Hollywood Reporter (@THR) September 23, 2019
To summarise what Michelle did as “advocating for pay equality” would be incomplete. This, of course, is about equality, but equality of environment as well as compensation and how the two intersect.
She begins by thanking her bosses for not questioning what she said she needed in order for her to do her job – whether it was more dance classes or voice lessons or fake teeth or whatever, they said “yes” to every request. Unfortunately, that response isn’t standard. That’s why she’s highlighting it as an exception to the rule, the rule being “no”, constant roadblocks when requests are made in order to best do the job. And these are roadblocks that aren’t thrown up for male counterparts. It’s maddening, isn’t it? All you want is to have access to the resources that will help you – and everyone else – succeed. It’s f-cking insulting to have to rationalise it, justify it, it makes you feel like you’re begging for it. And after all that, when you get it, you’re made to feel like you have to be profoundly grateful for it, like you’ve just been done a favour when all you want, really, is to kill it because, as Michelle says, when you’re empowered to kill it, you’re delivering on your promise, which means EVERYBODY WINS.
And you would think that this would be… a no-brainer, right? That it wouldn’t require this much explanation, on television’s biggest night. And yet, she’s up there breaking it the f-ck down because the experience she had on Fosse/Verdon is NOT the norm – and she would know, being that a couple of years ago, we all found out that she was not paid equally while working on All The Money In The World. And if she wasn’t paid equally, chances are she certainly wasn’t supported equally in all the ways that don’t have to do with money. Chances are, what she’s implying, what she doesn’t have to say out loud, is that women who ask for resources, for training, for lessons, for extra teeth or hair or whatever else is required, are called “high maintenance” – but make no mistake, that’s definitely what she’s getting at when she’s talking about the “work environment; it’s a demand for equality of attitude and perception for the women at work, the same way male counterparts are perceived when they submit a list of what they need. Almost every woman in that room would have felt that, felt it to their bones. And so many woman watching too.
They also probably, hopefully, felt a lot like Busy Philipps. Michelle and Busy have referred to each other as the love of each other’s life. There was no one prouder than Busy, no one happier for Michelle than Busy, no one who knows more than Busy what Michelle has experienced, personally and professionally, especially this year because, don’t forget, through all this, like literally just as Fosse/Verdon premiered… Michelle Williams got divorced a few months ago!